I learnt a lot about the history of Auckland last weekend, both Maori and European. I walked across the Otuataua Stonefields, an archaeological site encompassing one of New Zealand’s earliest settlements, and I visited the Howick Historical Village. I greatly enjoyed my time at each of these places and definitely recommend including them on your New Zealand travels. I’ll talk about the historical village this week; the stonefields next week. So come on, grab your pretty, floral bonnets and step with me back in time to the Fencible Period.
You’re probably wondering, as you search for your pretty, floral bonnet, what on earth the Fencible Period is. Well I was just as confused as you are now, but one of the first things you see upon entering Howick Historical Village is a sign providing a helpful explanation. ‘Fencible’ comes from the word ‘defencible’. There were a few ‘Fencible’ settlements around Auckland, made up of retired British Empire soldiers and their families. The soldiers were offered free passage to New Zealand, land and a cottage in return for seven years of military service. If anyone were to attack Auckland, they’d have to come through the ‘Fencibles’ first.
Howick Historical Village comprises over thirty restored buildings from the mid-nineteenth century. The range of buildings is quite impressive, but the first place we headed for was the café at the entrance. (We’d just driven up from Hamilton and we were famished.) It’s a really good café, actually, with a nice verandah. I was with my partner, Tim. He’d already been to the village – on a school trip when he was a kid – and he wasn’t all that keen on going again. In the end, though, he was glad he did. He found it a lot better than he remembered, possibly because he’s able to appreciate the history more now.
There was hardly anyone in the village, as we arrived later in the day, so walking around it was lovely and peaceful. (Despite the rugby match going on next-door!) It cost us $15 each to get in, but it was worth every penny. It’s better, I think, than the Taranaki Pioneer Village, which is very similar. The map we were given at the beginning was clear and contained good information about each of the buildings. We spent about two hours going round, but we did read all the information boards quite thoroughly. Tales about people immigrating to New Zealand always resonate with me – I’m so glad we live in the 21st century!
The village was filled with lots of nice, little touches. In the schoolroom, for example, a somewhat creepy recording of children singing was playing. I didn’t know they used to have to sing their ABCs to the tune of God Save the Queen! While I liked having each building to ourselves, I wish we’d gone on a Live Day. On the third Sunday of every month, excluding December, the village comes to life, populated by costumed villagers. Tim knows a guy that does blacksmithing there. Oh, and you can have photos dressed up as well – how did I miss that? Dressing up in historical costumes is one of my favourite things to do!
Howick Historical Village taught me a few things I wouldn’t otherwise have known. The history there is fantastically presented. It’s a brilliant place to go for locals and tourists alike. Be sure to check out more Places to go around Auckland that are fun and educational and I’ll see you next week.